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  • Fixing The Twins, Part III: Attitude


    Thrylos

    This is the third and last, but not least, segment in this series. You can find the first segment (fixing the bullpen) and the rationale for the series here, and the second segment (fixing the outfield) here. I think that the most important (and at times the hardest, or the easiest) thing to fix for the Twins is the team attitude.

    How do you measure attitude and how does attitude prevent a team from winning, and what is that "attitude" thing anyway. Isn't that the thing that your parents and teachers talked about when you were growing up, or something else. Well, as far as baseball goes, I will let former Twins' player and Texas Rangers' manager Ron Washington describe it in this 30 second video. To borrow Washington's words, a winning attitude is when you "expect to win" and "do everything you need to do to win". Arguably, the Minnesota Twins in the last couple of decades have had as a motto (at their best,) do all you can do (aka bust your tail) and you win some, you lose some. Those were exactly the words of a smiling Michael Cudduyer at the Twins' dugout, on September 30, 2008, after the Twins lost game 163 to the White Sox. Part of the reason they lost was that Cuddyer did not do what he needed to do to win, colliding with and forcing the ball out of AJ Pierzynski's glove to score.

    And giving it your all and being "good enough" has been the Twins' motto. And the majority of fans were OK with "good enough" during the '00s, winning the title of the weakest division in baseball about half of the time and then going belly up during the postseason when they played the AL East. And if the fans are happy with "good enough", and that is more than "good enough" as far as revenue goes, and you get a brand new ballpark and brand new season ticket sales, why even bother to think about fixing it? That was the Twins' past decade of "glory", in half a paragraph. And then the glory went south.

    What happened? Well, the Twins did not even do all they could do on the field and add that to a culture of favoritism in the clubhouse, where it did not matter to some whether the veterans did all they could do or not. But when people outside the inner circle opened their mouths, they were thrown under the proverbial bus. Add that to not expecting to win as a starting point, and you get 99 + 96 + 96 + 92. And most importantly, there has been no reason for even the most fervent Twins fans to believe that this team could win. Thus a drop in ticket sales, thus a drop in revenue, thus...

    To win, a team needs a leader who expects to win and make sure that his players and coaches do everything they need to do to win. Here was the most common expression of the previous Twins' leader during games the last several seasons (hanging on to the dugout railing optional) :

    16826424631_e102cfde1e_c.jpg

    Is this the expression someone who is doing all he needed to do to win and lead by example. Is this the expression of someone who expects his team to win? Or is this the expression of someone who looks defeated and solemn? Rhetorical question.

    There was not a more obvious time for me to see that the Twins players were not only not doing what they needed to do, but not even all they could do, and that this was OK with the manager and the coaches, than this particular game last spring training. Before I went down there last season, I did have hopes that with the changes they made in the rotation, plus some players improving, they had a chance to break even and have an 81-81 record. But after what I saw, I predicted that the Twins would end the 2014 season with a 70-92 record.

    That is the past, and tomorrow I am landing at Fort Myers, for a week-long stay and I'll be able to see how things are this year, but I have a feeling that they are heading in the right direction.Getting rid of their manager and pitching coach and replacing them with good baseball people and a Hall-of-Famer as manager will add about 10 wins this year. They also brought back Torii Hunter. It did not make much sense at the time, and I think that the guy is a p---k, plus he left the Twins' in free agency just for money and he added insult to the injury by signing with the Twins biggest division rival in his second free agency, but there might yet be something positive. As I indicated here, Hunter can help the young players (who were tainted by the Twins' clubhouse attitude, it is no secret) realize that they have to at least give it their all and lead by example.

    I have seen signs from Molitor that he is leading his players toward doing what they need to do. First example was the no-cell phone policy during game days, which was awful last season. Players need to focus in the game and not on their social media during game day. Second, he benched Aaron Hicks during a game for losing track of outs, a gesture that had not happened during a Twins' spring training since 1965, when Sam Mele, the Twins' manager, took Zoilo Versalles(the eventual 1965 MVP) out of the lineup because of lack of effort. And you know what the Twins did in 1965. Also, after a couple of mishaps on short fly balls and lack of communication between infielders and outfielders, Molitor had extra drills with the whole team for those circumstances. In previous years, veterans and the inner circle would be excluded and only few would participate in similar drills.

    There are a lot of positive signs that a realization has occurred that the team's attitude needs to change to win, and actual steps are being taken in this direction. I will know more about how things will play out in this department in ten days or so, after I return from Fort Myers, having seen the team play this spring. Last year I predicted that 70-92, based on what I saw, I hope that this year, it is the reverse...

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    Part of me wants to think this is pretty simplistic. The rational part of me, which says it's about accumulating better players, players who put the right stats up that help you win ballgames.

     

    But the examples you loaded this article full of tell a pretty damning story, and one that may be starting to change. Sounding the bell of "attitude, desire and accountability" always seems too easy and empty to me, but maybe there's some truth here. For whatever reason, there did seem to be times where players weren't committed and perhaps not responding to Gardenhire. Is it worth ten games? I don't know, I'm skeptical, but I really appreciate this article. Would be nice to see this all translate to more wins on the field.

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    If Molitor shares the view that attitude was an underlying problem for the last seasons of Gardy's reign, I'd expect to see somebody made an example of before Opening Day. So far I can't recall an instance of anything really "surprising". Maybe it's still coming.

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    I read all 3 articles tonight, and here I thought the Twins had been awful the last few years because they had inferior talent! As a "old timer, " I really didn't understand that there are so many dynamics involved in the game. There are so many terrifically informed and knowledgable contributors, including Thrylos, expressing their thoughts and ideas here on TD! I appreciate all of the work and dedication that was put into these articles-thanks!

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    To be honest, I thought we maybe performed over our heads last year.  I think that easily could have been a 100 loss season without guys like Santana, Arcia, and Vargas giving our whole team a spark and carrying us for several weeks.  Obviously Dozier had a career year, as did Hughes.  Some of these guys are due to regress big time. However, I think E. Santana, and Gibson are as competitive as they come, and I could see those 2 carrying the staff this year.  Perk and Fien have some fire in the pen, and I think Pelfrey could has that in him if he could only get some guys out...

     

    We had a few guys playing hard for spots and for pride last year.  We had a few playing to collect checks.  I'm looking forward to a year where hopefully, finally, the guys playing hard will be our most prominent players.  Those few weeks where Arcia carried the team last year and raised everyone else's play made more excited about the future of the team than almost anything I'd seen the previous 5 seasons. Of course, he promptly broke his ankle when our "leader" Plouffe whiffed on a bunt and left Arcia in a pickle...  Vargas and Sano can't stand losing batting practice.  Santana runs hard every ball.

    It seems like the culture is changing.  Gardenhire seemed to recognize that.  Moli's inherited some decent young players.  Hopefully he feeds that fire rather than squelching it.  If we can win a few games, the vets will reengage.  Crucial season, imo.  Could go either way.

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    I think Thrylos is right, there is an attitude problem with the team. Maybe the team doesn't need a gritty in your face player or manager, but I welcome a little fire and brimstone for this club. And maybe someone has been called out or made an example of behild the closed doors of Spring Training. But maybe that doesn't need to happen becasue Molitor has set a tone, the players have picked up on it, and everyone is tired of losing... so they're ready to work.

     

    I'd like to see a little more fire from this club. I think the young players will give more energy to the team, Joe Mauer, Perk and other veterans will show guys how to be class acts, and hopefuly Molitor and his staff can manage this team to squeeze out a couple extra wins from the clutches of defeat.

     

    I don't know if this team can completely turn things around, but it's spring time, I'm hopeful, and I feel like 2015 will be a step in the right direction. A baby step or a giant one, who knows, but so far it looks like the team is at least moving forward.

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    Most comments, blogs, and stories in TD are statistically driven. Attitude is the antithesis of a statistical response. The only way it can pass muster is the eyeball test, and everybody's eyeballs are different. This is the proverbial "IT". You just kinda get a feeling and then it starts feeding on itself and grows. This is the intangible aspect of sports that I'm addicted to.

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    Most comments, blogs, and stories in TD are statistically driven. Attitude is the antithesis of a statistical response.

    I doubt that anyone who takes a statistical view on a topic is downplaying the importance of attitude.

     

    It's just that if the player's attitude is instrumental, it should show up in the stats.

     

    If a guy isn't hitting any singles, or any doubles, or any triples, or any homers, or drawing any walks, yet is scoring and driving in a ton of runs, due solely to possessing a winner's attitude, he'll be the first. And if the attitude is instead showing up as singles, doubles, etc. that are leading to the runs, presumably his attitude is consistent from year to year and will continue to show up in the stats.

     

    If the stats are poor, and a change in attitude is what's needed to fix that, rather than a better batting stance or whatever, I'm all for it.

     

    Instead, when the stats improve, what often gets said is that some unseen thing like attitude was the cause. But to me it sounds like second-guessing, because it rarely works consistently in the other direction - how many times have we seen a Spring article about someone's new-found attitude, but the results at the end of the year still wind up being poor.

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    The results this season could end up being the same, but there's certainly an attitude change here. Who knows why. Gardy being gone, Mollie saying the right things, the addition of new faces? It's hard to tell but a lot more enjoyable for us fans here.

     

    Yesterday was a short practice and the players here all seemed pleased with that. I had Ervin Santana sign a ball for me and told him I'd never seen anyone smile as much as he. He smiled. Mauer, Dozier, Suzuki, and even Perkins signed for the few fans that were there. As a team they've been much more cordial than in recent years. Nolasco has a much better attitude this year compared to last. So does Plouffe. I sense the guys are having some fun, and having fun can translate to being more relaxed and better results. Torii has added alot to the camp. Now to see if any of that helps in the win column.

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    This is when I would have fired Gardy.  Out of shape again, growing a scraggly beard:  This is a guy who completely gave up on his team. 

     

    http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/2/files/2015/01/ron-gardenhire-mlb-minnesota-twins-detroit-tigers-850x560.jpg

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    The results this season could end up being the same, but there's certainly an attitude change here.  Who knows why.  Gardy being gone, Mollie saying the right things, the addition of new faces?  It's hard to tell but a lot more enjoyable for us fans here. 

    How much of that is perception, though?  I haven't been in Florida, and haven't really been following the reports or quotes coming from down there other than the stats and cuts, but I am more optimistic about this team than the last few years.  We were simply a better team in 2014 than past years, at virtually every position.  And we have multiple top prospects actually healthy and ticketed for the high minors for a change.

     

    Honestly, from afar, I've barely even noticed Molitor and Hunter this year.  Pretty sure my positive outlook on the team would be comparable even if it was Gardy and Alex Rios or whoever in those spots.

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    This is when I would have fired Gardy.  Out of shape again, growing a scraggly beard:  This is a guy who completely gave up on his team. 

     

    http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/2/files/2015/01/ron-gardenhire-mlb-minnesota-twins-detroit-tigers-850x560.jpg

    I liked the beard. He looked relaxed. And he was saving money on razor blades and shaving cream for his early retirement years.

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    Regarding attitude

    "It's just that if the player's attitude is instrumental, it should show up in the stats."

    Fine analysis.

     

    It is true that players have motors. There are places within them that are stirred by emotion which brings out the best in them. I'm thinking Puckett and how I'm sure others played better at times by taking some spirit from him. Players in a 7-month grind of a season have lows and highs and are mostly in between somewhere. How to get "the shout" out of them on game 6 of the year which appears to be meaningless, but is no more meaningless in actuality than a game in September.

     

    Anecdotally, I experienced this as a high school player. I grew up in a small town that was the smallest town in the conference, so we lost a lot of games, but during my Senior year we rallied during the playoffs or whatever they were called, and we rattled off three victories in a row, and we were on the improbable verge of going to the next level (whatever that was called) but for a hit to the outfield that went through one of our fielder's legs, so we were down by a run going to the bottom of the 7th. I'd never hit a homerun, had never had the strength and knowledge of how do it. I said to the batter who came up before me, get on base and I'm going to hit a home run and we're going to win this thing! He made an out, sadly, but I hit a home run!

     

    (What a difference a surge in attitude=belief, desire, anger, etc. can make)

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    I can understand the opinion expressed in this article, even if I don't agree with it, but:

     

    "Is this the expression someone who is doing all he needed to do to win and lead by example. Is this the expression of someone who expects his team to win? Or is this the expression of someone who looks defeated and solemn? Rhetorical question."

     

    I don't believe this is a fair characterization. Let's take some pictures of anyone at work periodically and see what we can find.

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    A few years back, our second series of the year was on the road against the Yankees.  Before one pitch was thrown in that series, Gardy said the following to the media (paraphrased):

     

    "Let's just survive this series, then we'll get home and see what happens."

     

    That drove me insane.  That's advertising to the world that he firmly believed his team had no chance of beating the Yankees.  That was the man supposedly leading this team.  Anybody who knows anything about leading people knows that's not how it's done.  There should be no question where the responsibility for this attitude should have been.  Since that interview, I was ready to see Gardenhire out.  It's too bad it took a few years of losing for it to happen.

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    Attitude matters, the stats outside of baseball show that, no idea what they say inside baseball.....

     

    Talent matters a lot more in MLB than in attitude though. I also agree that it is generally a post hoc explanation, that really doesn't hold up to scrutiny well. When a team gets hot, and they say it is chemistry.....which came first, the more luck, or the new attitude? 

     

    Attitude matters, 100% agree. How it is developed, how it contributes, lots of other questions.....we just don't have a firm understanding.

     

    And, picture and laughing while losing and all kinds of other stuff fans get worked up over, not a believer at all. 

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    "I think he's pressing a bit".  That one always drove me nuts.  They should be pressing.  They should be putting pressure on themselves.  You should be putting pressure on them.  Push them to get better, or go home.  Apparently, being a player friendly coach was more important than winning.

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    I think there is way too much stock placed in "they were laughing after losing". I've lost games and been absolutely irate at myself for leaving plays.....five minutes into that, a guy walks up and says, "Well you sure sucked tonight"....and I laugh and agree. So a reporter is let in 30 minutes after the game, misses all my anger, see's five seconds of laughter, and all the sudden...geez, the Baggy sure doesn't care...

     

    Doesn't mean I don't care, I just have a sense of humor.

     

    I firmly believe attitude problems (as far as not caring about losing or "becoming accustomed to losing") are statistical outliers that are extremely overblown.

     

     

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    "I think he's pressing a bit".  That one always drove me nuts.  They should be pressing.  They should be putting pressure on themselves.  You should be putting pressure on them.  Push them to get better, or go home.  Apparently, being a player friendly coach was more important than winning.

     

    I don't think that's what is meant by "pressing". There are times when you try to hard to do something instead of letting muscle memory and ability take over. Sure it's not the perfect way of explaining it, but the general notion is their brain is likely getting in the way of what they can physically achieve if the mind a bit. 

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    A few years back, our second series of the year was on the road against the Yankees.  Before one pitch was thrown in that series, Gardy said the following to the media (paraphrased):

     

    "Let's just survive this series, then we'll get home and see what happens."

     

    That drove me insane.  That's advertising to the world that he firmly believed his team had no chance of beating the Yankees.  That was the man supposedly leading this team.  Anybody who knows anything about leading people knows that's not how it's done.  There should be no question where the responsibility for this attitude should have been.  Since that interview, I was ready to see Gardenhire out.  It's too bad it took a few years of losing for it to happen.

    His quotes before post season Yankee series always irked me, too.  I'm too lazy to look them up, but they were always something along the lines of having to "play perfect" to win, or something similar that let everyone know, including his team, that he thought the team in the other dugout was much better than his.

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    Attitude and culture matter. But I have a hard time believing molitor and the pitching coach are worth ten games. I think more like 3.

     

    If coaches are worth 1-3 wins, they are vastly underpaid compared to players.

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    If coaches are worth 1-3 wins, they are vastly underpaid compared to players.

     

    Compare Liriano and Worley (plus many more) before and after Andy

    Give me the name of a single manager who would play Kubel, Colabello (and Dummit, but that's an old story) at outfield and Parmelee too (and as a starting centerfielder.)  

    Give me the name of a single manager who would have Jason Tyner as the designated hitter in the postseason

     

    There is only one.

    And calculate close games lost by ineptitude or errors, and you will see that "3" is way underestimating.

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    Compare Liriano and Worley (plus many more) before and after Andy

    Give me the name of a single manager who would play Kubel, Colabello (and Dummit, but that's an old story) at outfield and Parmelee too (and as a starting centerfielder.)  

    Give me the name of a single manager who would have Jason Tyner as the designated hitter in the postseason

     

    There is only one.

    And calculate close games lost by ineptitude or errors, and you will see that "3" is way underestimating.

     

    I totally agree Gardy cost us games.  But 10 a year? Allow me to add 10 wins per season to 2002 to 2010. 

     

    There have only been 116 instances in history where teams have had 100 wins. The Yankees have 25.  But #2 and #3 are Oakland (10) and Atlanta (8).  So I don't think a Twins team led by a better manager, or any other manager would have had five in a nine year stretch.

     

    2010   104 wins
    2009     97 wins
    2008     98 wins
    2007     89 wins
    2006   106 wins
    2005     93 wins
    2004   102 wins
    2003   100 wins
    2002   104 wins

     

    http://www.sportingcharts.com/articles/mlb/which-mlb-team-has-the-most-100-plus-win-seasons.aspx

     

     

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